by Hazel tenBroek
From the Editor: The following recollection has been adapted from an article published in the October 1990 issue of Slate and Style, the publication of the Writers Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Hazel tenBroek, the first first lady of the National Federation of the Blind, addressed the Writers Division at that golden anniversary national convention. Her remarks were later transcribed. These are her memories of the early days of communication and publication in the Federation:
General confusion in the ranks is not unusual. When Mr. Stevens [Tom Stevens, then president of the Writers Division] called me some weeks ago, he asked me to talk about the development of the Monitor. When I looked at the agenda, it said, "Writing in the NFB." As I thought about it, there isn't much difference.
I'm minded of the time my husband was teaching. He taught in the speech department at the time, but he always taught Public Law, no matter where the course was located. The students asked him if he could teach an extracurricular course in labor law. He had to have it approved by the curriculum committee, so he put in for a course called "Judicial Rhetoric." They got their course in labor law. There are always ways to do these things.
Without carbon paper the NFB would never have made it. Without the telephone we wouldn't have arrived either. The big mistake we made with the Monitor, as with all magazines, was not to have acquired stock in the paper company and the telephone system in the beginning. Our first means of wide communication was the U.S. Post Office, which carried the flow of letters and all those carbon copies because at the beginning typewriters and carbon paper were all we had to communicate with. There weren't too many typewriters that could make more than five copies, so that meant a lot of repetition.
The letters went back and forth, and looking back at some of those carbons is wonderful, because my husband would say, "Can you read it? Mail it. Never mind corrections." During 1940-41 we sent lots of letters to interested persons. There were statements to Congress and legislative bodies about bills we wished introduced or seeking assistance to have them adopted. There were legislative proposals and analyses, legislative summaries, and of course a convention report. But one couldn't produce more than five carbons on the Royal.
On May 17, 1941, the NFB purchased its first A.B. Dick mimeograph, used, of course. We paid the sum of $64.97. We also purchased many reams of paper, stencils, and ink. The model was hand-operated. Motors came later. But I'll have to put in a little aside here. At that time we lived in Chicago, in a one-room apartment with a Murphy bed. Pretty soon the couch had to be moved into the space where the Murphy bed folded out because the walls were stacked with reams of paper. We also had a card table on which we did our collating. The summer heat in an unairconditioned 1941 apartment was ferocious. Friends--whoever came in was given a towel to drape around his head or neck—were handed a stack of sheets to collate, to say nothing of stuffing. We rarely had enough postage, but we managed.
In 1942 we produced forty-one items containing 103 pages. Mind you, my husband was teaching a full schedule at the Law School in Chicago at the time. In 1949 it was approximately 148. By 1955 it was forty-five bulletins produced in both Braille and print. One year I recall we sent out sixty-four bulletins, using that mimeograph, about every subject connected with the organization.
The need for additional means of getting out the word was obvious. Dr. Perry came to our rescue. In a letter dated April 12, 1941, Dr. Perry wrote in part, "The American Brotherhood for the Blind board is still meditating on my proposition that it publish a small, special magazine to be called `Legislation for the Blind.' I'm trying to devote a few pages in each issue of the All-Story Magazine to legislation just to keep up the interest."
The members who received print copies of the river of bulletins were asking for them in Braille. Our treasury was not up to having them produced by the professional houses, but someone had seen an English machine that would fit in the office, and by a magic vacuuming process it would produce Braille on plastic sheets from a paper master. Machines of almost any kind in publishing are not cheap. We needed to raise funds.
At the 1954 convention the very best barker and auctioneer, straight out of Tennessee, none other than Kenneth Jernigan, took over the podium and raised $1,095 in pledges, which in 1954 was a huge sum of money. The Brailler was delivered in good time and was promptly put to work. In fact, it produced Braille so sharp that it became painful to read because of the drag produced by static build-up on one's fingers. So we tried spraying the sheets with silicone. You can imagine what this did to collating. In addition, every time the frame came down on the sheet and the vacuum-forming unit began to run, one could watch the electricity register sprint around the meter. It was 1500 volts at a time, I guess, and it really spun the needle.
The All-Story Magazine, meanwhile, was doing what it could to keep Braille readers informed of current activities, especially on the legislative front. At the 1953 convention Resolution 3-15 resolved that each of the affiliates establish a policy of making a regular yearly contribution for the support of the All -Story Magazine and suggested the sum of $200 as a proper goal. In 1955 a resolution was adopted which authorized the Federation fundraiser to raise funds for the American Brotherhood for the purpose of enlarging the All-Story Braille Magazine to publish it monthly, to enlarge and improve the legislative section, to make it more national, and to employ a full-time editor.
In July 1957 came the announcement that the All-Story Magazine had a new name and a new editor. The Braille Monitor was on the scene. Why "Monitor"? The explanation went thus: "According to the dictionary a monitor is a person who advises, warns, and cautions. A Braille monitor is one who carries on that function for the blind. This is the pledge of the editors of this magazine," they wrote. As I recall, the Braille edition was published for a few years by APH and was shifted to Clovernook (because they offered us a much better price), where it remained until I retired.
Our civil war brought drastic changes. I keep thinking somehow of sibling rivalries, which started as you know with Cain and Abel and have come down to us since then. Somehow the civil war took me back to that, but it did bring us a lot of changes. The NFB lost its fundraisers and its ability to continue publication of the Monitor. In 1961 the American Brotherhood again came to the rescue. Under its aegis a new name, the Blind American, and a new editor, Floyd Matson, filled the gap. By 1964 the NFB had recovered sufficiently to resume publishing the Braille Monitor in inkprint and in Braille. It again became a monthly. During the interim the ABB had run short of funds, and the publication had been reduced to a quarterly. In 1964 Dr. tenBroek became acting editor, and Floyd Matson was retained as assistant editor. This arrangement held until Dr. tenBroek's death in 1968.
In May 1968 Dr. Jernigan appointed Perry Sunquist as editor of the Monitor and me as assistant editor. We three had a mostly harmonious relationship. When Perry complained that too many of his selections were being vetoed, Dr. Jernigan wrote to him to the effect that, if Perry had his way, the Monitor would consist of personal interest stories; that, if Dr. Jernigan had his way, the articles would all be urging us on to action; and that, if I had my way, the articles would all be dull legal analyses; but that, by mixing the three, a pretty good product resulted.
When Perry and I retired at the end of 1976, Don McConnell became editor. The more recent history does not need rehearsing here. The editors are doing such a splendid job that we can hope that their labors in the Federation vineyards continue to yield such a vintage product.
Changes in production came along with growth. The old hand-run mimeograph had acquired a motor along about 1950. That is also the [time] that the NFB acquired its first electric typewriter, a standard IBM. We were still sending our strings of carbons, and that machine doubled the output. A copy machine was still in the offing. The mimeograph could not keep up with the needs of the NFB for production. The NFB invested in its first A.B. Dick Press. The press printed from plates, so the NFB acquired a Xerox plate maker, state-of-the-art when it was purchased. It consisted of three pieces: a huge special camera, an electrostatic inker, and an oven. The plate was put in a rocker and rotated so that the ink powder would adhere to the photo and then put into the oven, which annealed the ink to the plate. We used that press for a number of years. One could also make copies of a sort this way.
In 1955 the NFB traded the 1950 IBM for three IBM Executives (machines, that is). The improvement in the appearance of the Monitor was remarkable. The proportional spacing meant more words to the page with consequent savings in paper. With an ever-increasing workload, having three meant that more than one typist could work on a manuscript at one time. Meanwhile we had given up hand collating from racks and gone to an A.B. Dick rotary. It was still hand-work, but much faster, and it eliminated all the walking. We used to have hand racks scattered around several long tables, and people marched and marched and marched around, collating the Monitor. Also, in the early days any of my friends who came in usually brought her children along, so, while we chatted, we collated. Nobody wasted any time.
In 1968 the NFB entered the computer age and acquired a couple of IBM MDSTs. Eventually we had four of them, along with the proper backup equipment. In the early 70s, the publication office was updated by a larger press, a fantastic Belgian Collator, and a great plate-maker. In time, the workload grew too large to keep in-house, and the Monitor had to go commercial. The mailing list went through its growing pains too, from paper labels to stencils and then an IBM card reader and keypunching to full computer runs. Each step was accompanied by its own problems, and we all learned. It did take us awhile to teach the computer people to drop out our lists in fifty ways and to adjust to the fact that blind people must be the most mobile group in the population.
The office was in the ideal neighborhood to find the kind of personnel we needed. Students who needed part-time work were abundant. Graduate students who needed work or a break from studies were at hand. Secretaries usually came from the ranks of wives whose husbands were in graduate school. But the minor genius, our printer for thirteen years, we stole from the Department of Agriculture. The academic and intellectual levels were high. A university town has obvious advantages.
Communication is the lifeblood of any organization. The spark that gives it life is usually located in the president's office. The NFB had chapters, states, and the national office, and the heart that keeps everything moving and keeps information circulating is the publications office. Without communication, however crude and simple, the organization would wither away. We are all familiar with the tremendous influence the Monitor has, not only in the lives of our members, but throughout the professional and legislative organizations of those who deal with problems of the blind. State publications serve much the same role in their territories. The local newsletter should play a more significant part on the personal level. This is what brings a sense of personal belonging. The names mentioned in local or affiliate newsletters are those of neighbors and acquaintances and of course fellow members. Belonging is a very important and strong concept in all our lives. Perhaps the only name on the chapter newsletter is the person to whom it is addressed. But that's pretty important. We receive a newsletter because we are a member. We belong.
I wish the Writers Division could help the correspondence committee [now the newsletter publications committee] in accentuating the importance of the chapter newsletter. In Sacramento we have a monthly newsletter. It's one large-print sheet. It tells people how to get to the meeting place, which buses to take, that kind of thing. It tells what activities are going on, tells if there is going to be a national or a state convention, and ends up with trivia. We do get some flak about trivia from people who think we shouldn't waste paper doing it, but it has a purpose: to teach new members something about the history. You know what they say about history. If you don't know it, you're condemned to repeat it.